In another move affecting hemp and cannabis producers, Washington has filed an emergency set of rules for protecting workers from wildfire smoke. As drought and high temperatures persist in the western United States, large wildfires regularly create smoke that presents a hazard to workers. Labor and Industries (L&I) is following California’s lead in making permanent rules for wildfire smoke. The emergency rules are designed to ensure workers are protected until that rulemaking is complete.
The emergency rules that went into effect July 16, 2021, apply to workplaces where the employer can reasonably anticipate that employees may be exposed to wildfire smoke. There are several workplaces exempt from the emergency rule.
Exemptions apply for enclosed buildings where exterior openings are kept closed except when entering and exiting. Also, for enclosed vehicles where the air is filtered by a cabin air filter and door and windows are kept closed except to enter and exit. The exemptions also apply to workplaces where employee exposure to poor air quality is less than one hour and for firefighters engaged in wildland firefighting.
The emergency rule centers around a major component of wildfire smoke, particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5). Inhaling PM2.5 causes cardiovascular effects and increases the risk of death. During wildfires PM2.5 is elevated, causing a risk to workers. The PM2.5 levels can be measured using different units and air quality indexes.
The rules in Washington call for employers to take several steps.
To start, employers must determine PM2.5 levels at their worksites using web-based sources or with direct measurements. Next, they must create a hazard communication to notify employees when PM2.5 levels exceed 172 on the Washington Air Quality Advisory Index (WAQA) .
The rule also calls for training of all supervisors and workers who may be exposed to levels of 101 on the WAQA index on the hazards of wildfire smoke and the procedures for ensuring workers are protected.
Employers must have a plan in place for monitoring and allowing medical care for employees displaying symptoms of illness related to wildfire smoke.
Employers are required to evaluate administrative and engineering controls when exposure reaches 172 on the WAQA scale.
And lastly the emergency rules require employers provide respiratory protection for employee use whenever PM2.5 reaches 172 on the WAQA scale.
On August 2, Oregon OSHA announced they are enacting similar emergency rules. Outdoor cannabis and hemp farms will need to comply with these emergency wildfire smoke rules starting August 9,2021. Like Washington the rules are focused around monitoring air quality indexes and employee training.
With the persistence of wildfire smoke each year it is likely more states will adopt similar rules to protect workers. Think Happy Consulting can help you with the plans, communications, and training needed to comply with the emergency and permanent rules when they are completed.